Illegal immigrants likely in area

May 21, 2006|by CANDICE BOSLEY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Turn on a television news channel, and it's likely that within minutes, the hot-button topic of illegal immigration is raised.

Crack open a newspaper, and the headlines will mention building a fence along the border with Mexico, paving a path for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship and declaring English the nation's official language.

Locally, it's likely there are illegal immigrants in the area - they might be working construction or picking seasonal fruits and vegetables - but it's anyone's guess as to how many call the Tri-State area home.

Sila Alegret-Bartel, who helped create the Western Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber supports the U.S. Senate's bill on immigration, which provides a path for citizenship for immigrants who have jobs and do not have criminal records.


The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also supports bringing an end to illegal immigration - on both the Mexican and Canadian borders, said Alegret-Bartel, who came to the United States from Cuba 40 years ago.

"I'm sure it's not going to be easy, but I'm sure it's doable, too," she said. "Both (borders) are an issue."

She said she could not speculate on how many illegal immigrants are in the area.

"I don't know for sure, but I'm sure there are some," she said.

Willing to work

Joseph Arias, who with his brother recently bought The Broad Axe, a Hagerstown restaurant and bar, said he understands what immigrants might be going through.

When he came to the country 32 years ago from El Salvador, racial slurs sometimes were lobbed in his direction, he said.

Although Arias said he is grateful for the opportunities the country offers, when it came to discussing his stance on illegal immigration, he demurred.

"I'm neutral," he said, holding up his hands.

Efrain Esparza, who owns Efrain's Taqueria in Hagerstown, said an immigration bill that allows for citizenship would create more job opportunities.

"If the law passes, it's going to help the community a lot," said Esparza, who moved from Mexico to the United States when he was 8 years old. "People will come up here and work."

No studies have been done to show the impact illegal immigrants have on the county's economy, said Tim Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

"I don't even know if I could tell you what I think," Troxell said.

Troxell said that he hears about "migrant workers" coming to the county for agricultural purposes, and said they likely return year after year.

A low unemployment rate and a lot of help-wanted advertisements could bode well for immigrants.

"I would guess that if they are here and they want to, I think they could find work," Troxell said.

Only 22 of the county's 3,264 unemployed people in 2003 were Hispanic, according to Affirmative Action data.

Shanon Wolf, labor exchange administrator with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said two studies have been done that show how many Hispanics are in the county's work force.

Affirmative Action data from 2003, the most recent available, indicates the county's total working population 16 years old and older is 104,251. The number of people employed was 67,801 and, of those, 633 were Hispanic.

The total Hispanic population of all ages was 1,570 in 2000, according to Census data.

Common occupations for Hispanics were in retail, food-related fields, secretarial jobs, production work and stocking positions, according to data.

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